Janis Joplin


Janis Joplin


For someone who professes to love 60s music as much as I do, for some strange reason it sure took me a long time to come around to the one and only Janis Joplin. Honestly, I had always kind of dismissed her as being a hysterical, drugged-out crooner who rose to prominence because of the novelty of that idea at the time. An unhinged female performer was a big deal back then, and she embraced it ran with it all the way to an early grave sadly.

But what I didn't realize about Janis Joplin was just how much of an amazingly talented singer she really was.  What made her truly special was the incredible amount of soul she had.  Yes, soul. That's not really a word I would have associated with Janis before I gave her a proper listen, but man, the amount of soul and passion that poured out of her was intense and often times moving.

And all that gut-wrenching soul and passion is best displayed on this her final album: Pearl.  For the most part, these are essentially all soul songs, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention her shit-hot backing band (The Full Tilt Boogie Band).  These were some seriously talented bluesy musicians that greatly complimented Joplin's achingly soulful performances.  Some of these tunes are groovy AF while others sport an affecting twangy/country flavor ("Me and Bobby McGee"), but the ones that really elevate things into borderline magical territory are the more yearning, soulful, warm-hearted tunes like "A Woman Left Lonely", "My Baby", and "Get It While You Can".  You can tell Janis was exorcising some demons on some of these songs, and that music was a therapeutic and spiritual release for her.  It's hard not to feel the sincerity and passion in her delivery, and it's often times pretty affecting, especially considering her untimely passing prior to the release of this album.

Being a native Texan that moved to San Francisco myself when I was young, I can't help but feel a connection and relate to her story on some level.  The fact that she was a totally free person, fleeing a place she felt like an outcast and blazed her own trail in life, that's a beautiful thing to me.  She rocked her own unique style, sang passionately, lived her life to the fullest and never looked back.  There's something admirable about that, in spite of the fact it ultimately led to her early demise.  Nonetheless, she left an indelible mark on the music world and was hugely influential to a host of musicians that followed in her footsteps (am I the only one that thinks Robert Plant ripped off her singing style?)

So before you err (like I did) and write-off Janis Joplin as just a strung-out cultural flash-in-the-pan from a bygone era, take a good hard listen to Pearl and it's hard not to come away equal parts impressed and moved.

R.I.P. Janis.



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